Actions

Work Header

split the secret up

Work Text:

i.

When Dirk is around it gives Todd a headache. At first he assumes it’s because of Dirk’s, well, Dirkishness – the pep, the loud voice, the constant stream of hazards that leave Todd closer and closer to death each time. After a while he realizes it’s not that. It’s the sound. Barely anything. High, thin, too emotionless to be a wail and too quiet to be a siren. It feels like someone has pulled floss between his ears and is working at his brain. It feels wrong.

He asks if Dirk can hear it and Dirk just laughs, the sound reassuringly human.

Well, not reassuringly. Reassuringly would mean Todd had to be reassured.

It’s just – it sounds human. Which is good. Because Dirk is human. Definitely.

ii.

Sometimes Ken can’t sleep through it, that sound. High, thin, not mechanical and not animal. Bart snores in her sleep but that doesn’t drown it out. She’s sprawled over the driver’s seat and she’s rattling; her inhales are snores, but her exhales are a small sweet hum. The humming is in a terrible discordant harmony, echoing against that sound. Ken makes a mistake: he shakes Bart until she wakes up, glares at him moodily.

“What,” she rasps.

“Turn it off,” Ken says. “That – that noise, it’s awful.”

“Can’t,” Bart says. “’sides, it’s pretty, right? Like singing.”

“It is absolutely nothing like singing,” Ken says.

“Yeah it is,” Bart says. “You can’t hear the words? It’s the universe, Ken, thought you liked that stuff.”

No, Ken can’t hear the words. Ken can’t hear anything, except for whatever is pacing back and forth at the edge of his hearing. Bart talks about the universe and makes it sound like – like gravity, like a force that’s impartial but almost benevolent. This doesn’t sound like that. This doesn’t sound like that at all.

iii.

But Amanda adjusts to it pretty fast. The Rowdies play their music so loud that it drowns out that noise, whatever it is, and besides: she’s had worse sensory shit to deal with. A small noise? Nothing. Sounds are fine. She can deal with sounds.

It’s just—

Okay, this is weird, but it’s just—

Sometimes the Rowdies forget that they’re supposed to be—

No, no, there’s no way to say this without sounding weird.

i.

He’d never say that Dirk isn’t human.

ii.

But when Bart is half-awake

iii.

or gleefully smashing things, so much that

i.

he – lets himself go, a little bit,

ii.

she makes Ken’s eyes

iii.

hurt.

i.

Todd starts buying Advil in bulk. Headaches all the time. He swears the noise is staring to sound like words, if he listens close enough.

ii.

Bart doesn’t even seem to notice that she’s doing it. That’s because, probably, Bart never seems to notice that she’s doing anything; it’s all natural to her, all calm. But. She gets excited, sometimes, or angry – rarely – and then the edges of her

shiver. Heat wave on the blacktop. Ken can’t even describe the way it looks, much as he’d like to; he wants to lay it out in logical steps, break it down like a code he’s struggling with. It isn’t that. It isn’t anything. Things it almost is, but isn’t:

  • The hackles rising on the back of a dog’s neck
  • The sudden violent spreading of wings
  • Like Bart is a mouth, and that mouth is opening, and at the bottom of that mouth there are all these teeth

iii.

Amanda asks Martin about it, but just once. Vogel and Cross are playing some complicated game that involves a carefully sketched-out hopscotch board and what looks like a broken accordion; Gripps has grabbed hold of the chalk and is drawing something else that definitely is not a hopscotch board. Amanda sits next to Martin in the open back of the van and tries to only look at him sideways. He doesn’t look quite right, sideways, and that’s why she keeps looking.

“Best mind yourself,” he says. “Look into the abyss, and all that.”

“Pretty big talk,” Amanda says, looking at him straight on. He just looks like a guy straight on, which doesn’t feel right at all, but she owes him this. “You’re saying you’re the abyss, then?”

“Something along those lines,” Martin says. He takes a drag of his cigarette.

“Is that why—”

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”

“I do want the answer, though,” Amanda says. “I want to know.”

Vogel has gotten to the last square of the hopscotch board and he throws the accordion up, up, up. Martin watches it go and breathes smoke at it. The two things do not touch.

“Some people,” he says finally, “meddled in some things they didn’t understand.”

“Sounds like life,” Amanda mutters.

“Nah,” Martin says. “’cause usually the things people meddle with are passive. Y’know. Fate. Natural forces. Worst comes to worst, people mess with each other. But there are some things you just shouldn’t poke.”

“And they poked them.”

“Sure did,” Martin says. “And here we are.”

i.

“It’s lonely,” Todd says, one day, apropos of nothing except the noise that’s building louder and louder inside of his brain. From the other side of the couch Dirk startles, drops his pen; it clatters to the floor, rolls under the couch.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dirk says quickly, “unless you’re referring to yourself in which case you should have told me earlier, Todd, and though of course I accept your new choice in pronouns and your exciting new decision to refer to yourself in third-person I would have liked a bit of warning.”

“No,” Todd says. “No, no, you know exactly what I’m talking about because it’s coming from you. The – the singing.”

“There is no singing, Todd,” Dirk says. His eyes are wide. Todd has to look at him straight-on, because if he does not devote every bit of energy to looking at Dirk things go a bit – weird. Like Dirk’s body is forgetting that it’s supposed to be a collection of parts that work together, and only remembers once it faces peer pressure.

This close to Dirk he can see the lines in his irises, the way they’re shifting. Iron fillings pulled by magnets. They’re making letters and Todd can almost see them and Dirk is lonely, or the voice is lonely, the voice that’s singing that Todd can hear between his ears and inside of his skull and if he could just get close enough he could let it—

“Todd!” Dirk says – only it’s a shout, isn’t it. Todd, Dirk shouts. Todd leans back again. God, his head hurts.

“What,” he says.

Dirk is across the room, although Todd doesn’t remember how he got there, and he’s wringing his hands together like an old-timey maid. “I’ve had assistants before, you know,” he says. “Lots of them! Plenty. Several assistants. At least one. I’ve found it’s best not to let them get too close, often, because you know I am a very charming person and—”

He keeps talking. If Todd stops listening to it he can hear the heartbeat thumping in Dirk’s words, and it sounds like

ii.

hungry,” Bart says, so they go to a McDonald’s. Bart is enamored by them, possibly because of Happy Meal toys, possibly because of drive-throughs, possibly just because of the color combination or some other strange Bart-thing. Once she learns she can’t just take food from behind the counter, Bart and McDonald’s get along great. Ken likes their salads just fine.

On the way out, juggling a salad and a drink and the door handle and also, in a way, Bart – Ken trips, falls, skins his arm wide open. It’s a mess of asphalt and bleeding. “Ow,” he says eloquently.

Happy Meal hits the ground, rolls over so that its bug eyes are staring at him. Bart has his arm by the wrist and she’s shaking it back and forth, hard, so beads of blood spray everywhere. “What is that,” she says. “Ken, Ken, what’s that, why is that happening.”

“I tripped,” Ken says. “That happens sometimes, it’s really not that big of a—”

Ow,” he says again, because the sound is: loud. That’s all it is, loud. Bart is staring at him wide-eyed and she isn’t even strange around the edges anymore, she’s just – strange. Ken looks at her and sees a hole in the universe. Ken looks at her and sees something with so many limbs they can’t all exist at the same time but they do, oh, god they do. He sees a little girl standing in a doorway, except the doorway is a mouth, except the girl is a tooth in a mouth. And he sees Bart, who has mustard on her face. When Ken drags a hand up to touch his cheek, he realizes he’s crying.

Bart is kicking the ground, over and over, panicked. Bart is not kicking the ground, because she isn’t anything – there’s nothing there, except there’s something there, and Ken keeps trying to tell her to stop but he can’t make words anymore and the universe is singing to him only he can’t make the words out, Bart keeps wanting him to hear the words but he can’t hear the words all he can hear is

iii.

a song playing from the CD player of the van, some punk-rocker roaring about

i.

hunger and hunger and loneliness and hunger and

ii.

the way the light bends around a hole and

iii.

the way the light needs a hole to be light and

i.

reaching out to something that won’t ever reach back,

ii.

no matter how you reach or

iii.

how many hands you try to reach with

i.

or how many teeth you smile with

ii.

or how hard you reach, hard enough to break—

iii.

until Amanda puts her headphones on, and drowns out the sound. She only tried turning off the music once, and then the Rowdies did that thing where the world started screaming and they all became something-other-than-Rowdies and Amanda turned the music back up and they ate all the terror from it, from seeing things Amanda thinks you aren’t ever supposed to see.

Cross says: when there’s screaming outside, the screaming inside gets quiet.

Vogel says: songs are spines but they aren’t cages! Get that straight! They aren’t cages, they’re bones and they’re like hugging and they keep you real tight in yourself and it’s good.

Gripps says: songs show us what we are.

Martin says: rhythm’s good, you understand, because otherwise we have a hard time. Helps us stay pretty.

Pretty, the other Rowdies chorus, and they laugh.

They all sleep in the back of the van, the five of them, pressed together like puppies in a pile. The music growls onto itself in the background and if Amanda’s head is pressed against Cross’ neck or Martin’s wrist she can hear it: the sound of their heartbeats, beating along in time.

It’s not a cage, though. Get that straight. It’s just a rhythm for them to exist to. Who is Amanda to judge them? She plays drums, she gets the need for something else’s heartbeat.

i.

The Rowdy 3 come back into town and Todd can hear them singing from the street outside. They sound different than Dirk does, but it’s the same sound. A sound is still a sound, even if the note is different, even if the pitch bends at an angle that shouldn’t exist. Todd looks out the window and watches it. Todd used to eat things, probably, but now he thinks he could eat that sound and live forever.

The door to his apartment opens. “You are so lucky I learned to pick locks,” Amanda says, closing the door behind her, “because otherwise I would be standing out there and knocking for the rest of my life, Todd, why didn’t you—” her voice stops. “Todd?”

There’s a hand on his shoulder and Todd blinks, and then he blinks at Amanda. “Hey,” he says. “Hey.”

“What the hell is up with you,” Amanda says.

“They’re making sounds,” Todd says, and Amanda’s eyes sputter out a few blinks.

“Oh,” she says. “The…” and she gestures to the van parked outside Todd’s building. “Yeah, they need to keep the music on, it’s this whole big thing—”

“No,” Todd says, and: “no, not. Not those sounds. Amanda, do you ever – listen with your mouth? Can you taste it?”

“Oh, shit,” Amanda says. “You can hear the—”

“The sound—”

“And how it’s—”

“It’s so hungry, Amanda—”

Amanda tugs him over to the couch; they sit down. “Yeah,” she says. “Martin says that people were messing with eldritch shit and the Rowdies came out somehow.”

“Not just the Rowdies,” Todd says. His voice is faint.

“Todd,” Amanda says slowly, “are you like…okay?”

ii.

“I’m fine,” he says, rinsing all the blood off until the water runs clear. “See?”

iii.

Except he doesn’t say anything. Looking at him Amanda realizes that he’s thinner – no, not thinner, there’s just less of him. Something indefinable is missing from Amanda’s brother. His eyes are so blue; they look hot enough to melt something. They look feverish, like stars.

Behind Amanda the door opens. “Todd,” says a voice, “you would not believe this, it turns out there are more than thirty-two flavors of – Amanda! This is a surprise, except really it isn’t, I cannot believe I missed your new friends’ completely unbearable racket until” and Dirk keeps going, because of course, because it’s Dirk. Amanda tunes him out and it’s easy. Amanda looks at Todd, whose eyes are stars.

“It’s Dirk, huh,” she says.

“What’s me?” says Dirk, eternally thrilled at the sound of his own name. “Well, besides myself, of course.” His eyes dart to Todd and then away again. Amanda looks and Dirk is: shivering. Not like he’s cold. Not like that at all. Just around the edges, in a way that tugs at something familiar in her. It aches.

“You’re not human,” she says bluntly. Martin’s voice in the back of her brain says careful now and it’s the irritation at that that makes her say: “So what are you.”

“Amanda—” Todd starts, and Amanda claps a hand on his shoulder. In front of them Dirk is twisting and warping and straining to hold himself together, bits of him glitching out. Dirk is seventy spears of sunlight, or maybe he’s a blueprint of a skeleton of a man, or maybe he’s a guy in a bright red leather jacket, or maybe he’s a ragged-edge hole in the world.

“I’m human,” he says, desperate. “I am. I am nothing more than human, Amanda.” He does not sound like something that can be believed.

“No you’re not,” Todd says,

i.

“you’re lonely

ii.

They are driving down a freeway that is completely empty. Freeways are usually empty when Bart is driving, that’s what Ken has found. The universe, apparently, does not want them to crash and die. He keeps almost-recognizing landmarks – they’re heading, maybe, towards the city where they first met Dirk. Bart hasn’t said that’s where they’re going, but Ken has stopped believing in coincidences.

He keeps singing along to the radio, soft, under his breath – sugar, oh honey honey, you are my candy girl. Usually Bart laughs, but right now she’s just frowning pensively out the window. Her fingers drum against the steering wheel; the light from outside the car pours over her face like dark water.

“I think somethin’ bad is happening,” she says.

Ken looks out the window; Ken turns around, so he can look out all of the windows. “Really?” he says. He isn’t skeptical; he doesn’t doubt that something is happening, because it’s Bart. But. He is a little baffled.

“Not here, stupid,” Bart says, “out there. There’s all this – singin’ about it. Not about sugar, just like – you know. Death and stuff. Loneliness.”

By now Ken is used to the noise, but: when he concentrates, it’s there. It’s shrieking through his ears like a drill bit. He manages to tune it out again. “Ow,” he says, despite himself.

“Yeah,” Bart says. “Ow.” She bangs the heels of her hands against the steering wheel and the horn obligingly goes off a few times. “I think it’s Dirk,” she says.

“You can tell?”

“I dunno,” Bart says. “It’s like – I wasn’t born, right, they pulled me out from where I was s’posed to be and it hurt. Ripped me, like. But they ripped out more than just me, or like, we split, or – I dunno how to explain it, Ken, but I’m just one part of a whole bigger thing. So like, yeah, sometimes I can tell when bad stuff is going down. It’s like a big ol’ ripple in a pond when you chuck a huge rock into it.”

“Something bad is happening,” Ken says slowly.

“Yeah.”

“And we’re driving right towards it.”

“Well, yeah,” Bart says. “Duh.”

iii.

Amanda’s mind is out right now. Please leave a message after the beep.

Which is to say:

Her brain doesn’t want to be here anymore, so it bends all the way around so she’s sitting back in that van with Martin. Above them the sky is breaking open, and also the memory is of Amanda and Todd in their parents’ kitchen, and also the whole world is shaking so hard she can’t focus her eyes. “Don’t worry about it,” says Martin, who is also her father and is also the lamp next to the couch.

“Thanks, very helpful,” Amanda says to the sparking kaleidoscope taking up her whole vision. It unwinds itself into the Rowdies, who split and fold into themselves over and over like something Escher would have vomited just looking at.

“You messed up,” says Gripps, who is also the exact smell of the orange tree near Amanda’s elementary school.

“We can fix it!” says Vogel, mouth like an answer key at the back of an old math textbook.

“Close your eyes, kid,” says Martin, and Amanda

i.

,”

ii.

They run out of gas outside of an apartment building, and Bart unconcernedly unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of the car. Parked across the street is a van that’s roaring music; its side doors are open, and it has vomited a couple of angry-looking men into the street.

Maybe I should stay in the car, Ken thinks, but outside of the eye of Bart it’s just a hurricane. He hastily unbuckles his seatbelt and follows her towards the apartment building.

“Hey,” Bart says to one of the guys as they head in.

Another one of them dances around her, sniffs in a huge breath. “We know you,” he sings. “We see you.”

“We smell you,” says a different guy, “’cause you ain’t showered.”

Bart seems unconcerned. Ken resists the urge to cling to her shoulder and instead offers a little tiny wave to the guy with the glasses. He seems like the scariest one.

“Well, well,” says the guy with the glasses. “Looks like we’ve all got people tangled up in this. You as good as our girl, though?”

“He’s not!”

“Looks like he could just snap.”

“Probably can’t play the drums!”

Ken, Bart, and the guy all ignore the peanut gallery. “He’s cool,” Bart says. They’re moving up the stairs and towards a door – Ken knows it’s the right door, even without Bart’s instincts, even ignoring the fact that it’s hanging open. Everything aches.

“This is gonna suck,” Bart says.

“Sure is,” says the guy with the glasses, and he opens the door.

iii.

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

i.

hurts

ii.

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

                               hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

iii.

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

i.

hurts

ii.

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

                                                             hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

     hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

                               hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

                                                           hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

iii.

hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts hurts

i.

and if you say that for long enough

ii.

and if you feel that for long enough

iii.

it doesn’t even

i.

feel

ii.

real.

iii.

So what does feel real?

i.

There was a time when Todd was young, before Amanda was born, when his parents took him to an aquarium. There was a glass tunnel through one of the tanks, and when you stood in the middle and looked up through the glass you could see the ocean above you

ii.

and this isn’t Ken’s memory, probably, but he remembers it – the ocean – the way it went on and on forever—

iii.

and the things floating in the ocean, down in the dark. Up in the dark. All around the tunnel through the dark. They look like sounds. They sing we know you. They fold in on themselves and then fold out again.

i.

We’re so lonely, they say, bumping up against the glass. They are the glass. They are on the other side of the glass and they are watching themselves bump up against the glass and they are between themselves, they are skin and bone between themselves and themselves. What is real? Which side of the glass? Amanda doesn’t know.

ii.

Wait.

iii.

Amanda doesn’t know.

i.

I want to help, Todd says, but they aren’t listening to him – they’re twining around themselves, light rippling through warped glass or something with too many tentacles or patches of night sky cut out and folded into squares. The glass sea tunnel had a moving sidewalk on it, Todd remembers, and no matter how much he tries to step backwards it keeps carrying him forward – on and on through the tunnel,

ii.

and out to the other side. Into the light.

iii.

Amanda wakes up in the back of the van. From the CD player someone is snarling, but that’s alright: it sounds like home. Across the van Gripps is shaking a bottle of bright blue nail polish, and when he sees Amanda looking he reaches slowly for her hand. She lets him take it.

“What,” she says, “the fuck.”

“It’s all good, drummer girl,” says Martin.

“For now.”

“Things that are good get less good, see?”

“Then they get good again.”

“Things double up! They parallel!”

“Everything is chaos, but it’s—”

“It’s synchronized,” Martin says, cutting Cross off. “Something’s always gotta turn in on itself, bend back into itself.”

“Everything’s gotta go back eventually,” Vogel says, rubbing his hand over his chest. “Everything’s gotta meet itself again.”

“It’s been a long time since we were home,” Gripps says, and he touches the sky to Amanda’s fingertip.

i.

Todd wakes up and his head—

—is fine. Which is, in and of itself, confusing. “Ow,” he says. He is sitting on the floor by the couch, and someone has left a mug of tea next to his foot. That “someone” is Dirk, obviously, because who else would make tea. Todd doesn’t even own teabags.

When he takes a sip, it’s cold and too sweet. He drinks more anyways. Dirk is sitting on the couch, fidgeting, and he keeps looking at Todd before changing his mind and looking away again. His hands drum on his knees.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on?” Todd says. “Or are we gonna wait until – whatever just happened happens…again? Whatever. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Project Black Wing,” Dirk says crisply.

“That’s not actually an answer.”

“Well it’s all I have, isn’t it!” Dirk says, and stands up, and starts walking in a circle around the couch. “I for one would love to exposit about the nightmare we have both experienced, but I can’t, because I do not know. I wasn’t always this. I was – something else, I was somewhere else, but they pulled me out of where I was supposed to be and now I am—” he sits down again. “This all sounds impossible, I know, but I swear it’s true.”

“Any more impossible than a dog and a girl switching bodies?” Todd says.

“You would be surprised,” Dirk says, “at how impossible things can get.”

“That’s what I signed up for when I became your assistant,” Todd says, getting up and sitting down on the couch next to Dirk. “Friend? Assisfriend? Did we ever decide that?”

“I think ‘friend’, purely for logistical ease,” Dirk says, without making eye contact.

“Tell me about it,” Todd says. “What you were. What you are.”

Dirk looks at Todd, eyes like letters in an alphabet Todd can’t read. He looks away. He opens his mouth and says

ii.

The sky at night, filled with stars. The way the world blurs at the edges when you’re driving too fast down a freeway. The smell of honeysuckle and diesel, here and gone. The space between the stars where something could be moving, or should be moving, or used to move before it forgot how.

Ken pulls his head back in the window, and rolls the window up, and all of these things are gone again.

“You done?” Bart says.

“Are you?”

Bart laughs, a raspy unsheathing of a sound. “I don’t get ‘done’, Ken,” she says. “I just keep goin’, forever and ever.”

“Sounds good to me,” Ken says. Bart looks over at him and grins, and then she presses down on the gas pedal. The car keeps on moving forward, deeper into the endless mouth of the dark.